The Rev. Tom Fangman had a message for Sacred Heart School's students last week: Do your best and make the most of what you've been given.
“We come to know our gifts, and every single one of us has gifts,” Fangman, Sacred Heart's pastor, said at an all-school Mass.
It wasn't a new message for Fangman. It was nearly the same one he delivered in June 2012 when CUES, the nondenominational nonprofit organization that has supported Sacred Heart School since 1975, announced that it would extend its hand to two other eastern Omaha schools: Holy Name and All Saints.
Sacred Heart's mission, he said then, is to provide children with opportunities to grow and discover their gifts. He pledged that CUES would help Holy Name and All Saints, schools with like missions and similar stories of success in educating inner-city kids, continue to do the same. Just months before, both schools had been listed for closure.
More than a year later, Fangman, CUES chief executive officer, says he believes “with my whole heart” that taking on two more schools was the right move.
“Our story is that much more exciting to tell when it includes these other schools,” he said.
There is a lot more to the CUES story these days.
It already has raised enough to write checks for $200,000 to Holy Name and $145,000 to All Saints, both ahead of schedule. The checks relieved the pressure of startup costs for the year at Holy Name and allowed All Saints to hire its first marketing and development director.
All three schools, which largely have operated independently, now are working together on various activities, particularly teacher training. Enrollment is up slightly at all three.
In April, CUES hired Mike Findley, an Omahan with 18 years' experience as a professional fundraiser, as its executive director. CUES dropped its former title — the Christian Urban Education Service — and became simply CUES. Last week, it launched a new website and logo that incorporate all three schools.
Up next: The CUES annual corporate fund drive, which begins today.
Fangman and Findley continue to meet with potential donors to build an operations fund that eventually could become an endowment and generate enough interest to reduce reliance on annual fundraising.
Both look to the model of the Big Shoulders Fund, which awards about $12 million a year in grants and scholarships to support Catholic schools in the neediest areas of inner-city Chicago. That fund, however, provides a lower percentage of participating schools' funds than does CUES, Findley said.
CUES historically has raised about 90 percent of operating costs at Sacred Heart. That includes some funds from the Children's Scholarship Fund of Omaha, which also provides varying amounts of funds in the form of scholarships to Holy Name and All Saints.
CUES will support Sacred Heart first and send as much as it can to All Saints and Holy Name. The organization, however, doesn't yet know how much it will raise. Each school has an annual budget of about $1 million.
Although the organization's commitment to the other schools will be less than to Sacred Heart, Findley figures that the annual budget of CUES will go from about $1.4 million to nearly $3 million over the next three years. It's a tall order, he said, and the next three to five years will be critical to the organization's success. But he said the responses that he and Fangman, whom he called a “modern-day Father Flanagan,” have gotten to their appeals have been remarkable.
“It's pretty impressive to me,” Findley said. “It's attributable to the credibility of CUES and (its) 38 years of success.”
Said Fangman, “It all has to do with the goodness of the community and the generosity of people who want to make a difference in kids' lives.”
The late John C. Kenefick, a former Union Pacific Railroad CEO, led efforts to create CUES when Sacred Heart School was in danger of closing in the early 1970s.
Shortly after Holy Name and All Saints were listed for closure in a draft plan in January 2012, a group led by Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts announced that it would establish a community foundation to help keep Holy Name open.
Instead, that group partnered with CUES. Three members — Ricketts, Rick Bettger and Matt Dwyer — joined the CUES board.
Fangman said the partnership made sense. All three schools educate ethnically diverse students from economically challenged north and South Omaha neighborhoods, serving as community anchors. Together, they send 98 percent of their eighth-grade graduates on to complete high school on time.
“To me, all it takes is one visit to those schools to see why it's so important they stay open,” Fangman said. “And the more I looked, the more we had in common.”
Ricketts said he couldn't be more pleased with the progress so far.
“Everybody has been pulling together in the same direction for the good of the kids,” he said.
Sofia Kock, Holy Name's principal, and Marlan Burki, All Saints' principal, said they and their teachers have benefited from having counterparts at the other schools with whom they can collaborate. Each school has only one section of each grade. Last week, for example, the schools held a joint session for teachers on literacy instruction.
“We're developing a strong partnership so we can share experiences and best practices,” Kock said.
Burki said the CUES support is essential for All Saints, which doesn't have a long-standing alumni base like Holy Name that it can tap.
Both All Saints and Holy Name still will be responsible for raising a share of their funds. So adding a development director, funded by CUES, is an important step for All Saints.
“It's something we've needed to do for years but just haven't had the funds to do,” Burki said.
All Saints will hold a new fundraising event, the All Saints and Sinners Shindig, at the school on Nov. 1. The event will feature country singer Tayla Lynn, granddaughter of Loretta Lynn. Those interested in tickets can call the school at 402-346-5757.
Being part of CUES also is helping put the school on South 10th Street on the map. Burki has heard from people who've driven by for years not knowing the school was there.
Kock said she anticipates more collaboration in the future. “We're all still kind of taking baby steps in trying to figure out what can happen with the three of us together,” she said.
Expanded reach of CUES
Sacred Heart 22nd and Binney Streets
Enrollment: 112 in kindergarten through 8th grade in 2012-13, 140 this year
» 92 percent non-Catholic
» 87 percent African-American, 12 percent African and 1 percent Hispanic
» 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Parents pay less than 10 percent of costs, and CUES raises funds to cover the remaining 90 percent.
All Saints 1335 S. 10th St.
Enrollment: 158 in pre-K through 8th grade in 2012-13, up to 161 this year
» 89 percent Catholic
» 44 percent Sudanese, 26 percent Hispanic, 25 percent Caucasian, 4 percent African-American and 1 percent Asian
» 73 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Parents pay about 10 percent of costs, 90 percent comes from parishes, CUES, the Children's Scholarship Fund of Omaha and archdiocesan support.
Holy Name 2901 Fontenelle Boulevard
Enrollment: 151 in pre-K through 8th grade in 2012-13, 160 this year
» 50 percent Catholic
» 44 percent African-American, 32 percent Caucasian, 17 percent Sudanese, 5 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian
» 73 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Parents pay about 35 percent of costs, 15 percent comes from the Children's Scholarship Fund of Omaha and 50 percent from the parish, development efforts and CUES.
Source: CUES and schools. Statistics are from 2012-13 school year unless otherwise noted.